travel

24 Hours in Brussels

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Back in September, Ian and I went on a week-long European trip to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary.  Funny story, we’ve never had good luck on our anniversaries, on our first wedding anniversary, Ian ended up in the emergency room due to a case of viral vertigo.  On our second wedding anniversary, our dog got a stomachache … and you can figure out the rest.  So in March, when I was perusing Expedia to satiate my wanderlust, I saw cheap tickets to Paris (~$350 nonstop, round trip), and I immediately booked them.  I figured, hey, maybe escaping Philadelphia will break this anniversary curse.  I’m happy to report that on our anniversary this year, nobody got sick, nobody went to the ER.

So for this European trip, we decided to base it out of Paris and train to another city for a few days.  We picked Brussels because it was ~90 minutes by train.  A lot of our friends suggested we just go to Brussels for a day, because “there isn’t much there”.  I took their advice and we only had around 24 hours in Brussels.  In retrospect, I wish I had stayed longer.  It’s such a charming city, very walkable, not that much hustle-and-bustle going on, which makes it a perfect location to just chill out and relax.  Since we only had 24 hours, we based it around the city center area.

We landed in Paris CDG on the day of our anniversary.  We were super tired, and it didn’t help that we had to wait for 4 hours for our train.  We thought customs would take forever in Paris, it turns out it took 5 minutes.  Our train arrived in Brussels around 1:30 pm and we checked in to our hotel.  We stayed at Sandton Brussels Centre, due to its proximity to the train station and is within walking distance to everything we wanted to be at.  When we booked the hotel, there was some sort of discount, so we managed to get it for around $90, which I think is a steal for a 4-star hotel in the heart of the city.

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Our first stop was Parc de Bruxelles, or Brussels Park.  It’s the largest urban park in Brussels and it’s an absolute dream to walk through.  You’ll see a bunch of locals just hanging out, walking their dogs, or reading a good book.  It’s pretty well-shaded by the tall, mature trees.  Right by the entrance of the park is the Royal Palace.  My online research said that they have tours during the summer.  But the day we were there, the tours weren’t available, so we weren’t able to go inside.  But the outside is so grandiose and quite a sight to take in.

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Next, it was time to eat!  The five things to eat in Brussels are waffles, fries, chocolate, mussels, and beer.  We walked along Rue de l’Etuve, which had loads of souvenir shops and chocolate stores.  We were so surprised by how cheap the chocolate shops were.  I guess because there’s so much competition, you can’t really charge too highly.  But some deals were insane, one store had 5 small boxes of chocolates for €20.  We got a lot of souvenirs (chocolates) here. 

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We had waffles from the famous La Funambule (many waffles from other vendors were eating in the next 20 hours).  Belgium waffles are so different from what I thought Belgium waffles are supposed to be.  In America, if you go to a breakfast place that serve Belgium waffles, they are typically crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with deep pockets for syrup to lay in.  The Belgium waffles there taste almost cookie-like.  There’s definitely way more sugar in the batter, the waffles are more rigid and dense (to hold all the toppings).  I think it’s definitely a dessert thing rather than a breakfast thing.

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The main attraction to Brussels for many is the Mannekin Pis, which is SO SMALL in person.  It’s this iconic bronze statue from the 17th century of a boy peeing.  You see it everywhere on postcards and souvenirs.  I’m not sure how people in Brussels feel about the unofficial mascot.

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We then walked to my favorite place of the day – Grand Place/Grote Markt.  It’s this city square that is encompassed by ornate historical buildings dating back to the 14th century.  Some I believe are still used by the government, and others are used commercially.  It’s so beautiful, and even more beautiful in the morning when nobody is there.

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Around 5pm, we started chasing down the other “peeing statues” – Zinneke Pis (a dog peeing) and Jeanneke Pis (a girl peeing).

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We then strolled along the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, which is a covered shopping strip with high-end retailers, restaurants, and cafes.

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In the morning, we visited St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, as it is a 1-minute walk from our hotel.  The interior was so beautiful, it’s built in the gothic style.  We then had brunch, got some food for the road, and headed back to Paris.  Brussels was truly so lovely, and we enjoyed every minute there.  Next time, we plan on staying a little bit longer, maybe explore a little bit more outside of Brussels and discover what Belgium has to offer.

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Things I ate in Brussels (not counting many street vendors for fries and waffles and chocolate shops):

My Little Cup (coffee shop)
Rue de la Croix de Fer 53
Ijzerenkruisstraat 53
Hours: 7:30 am – 4 pm
Notes: Coffee & pastries

La Funambule (waffles)
Rue de l’Etuve 42
Stoofstraat 42
Hours: 8 am – 10pm
Notes: Right next to Manneken Pis, dessert waffles with ice cream and fruit toppings

Maison Dandoy (waffles)
Located inside Royal Gallery of St. Hubert
Hours: 10 am – 9pm

Cafe Delirium (drinks)
Impasse de la Fidélité 4
Hours: 10 AM – 4 AM
Notes: 2000+ types of beer, next to Royal Gallery

Chez Leon (dinner)
Rue des Bouchers 18
Hours: 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM
Notes: Family-owned restaurant since 1893, known for regional cuisines of mussels & fries

Peck 47 (breakfast)
Rue Marche aux Poulets 47
Kiekenmarkt 47
Hours: 9 am – 10 pm
Notes: Really good egg benedict, savory waffles

Places I wish I had the time to visit:

  • Parc du Cinquantenaire (free) – beautifully landscaped park from the 19th century decked with floral gardens & fountains, home to art & military museums.
  • Atomium (€15) – Giant stainless steel atom, particles connected by escalators, with exhibitions & aerial views.
  • Mini Europe (€15,80) Miniature park with Europe’s landmarks created on a scale of 1:25, from Big Ben to the Eiffel Tower.
  • Musical Instruments Museum (€10) – Art nouveau museum with exhibits including traditional & mechanical instruments & a concert hall.

My Brussels travel tips:

  • Visit Grote Markt/Grand Place early in the morning (7am) for good photo opportunities
  • Everyone speaks English, but most signs will be in French/Dutch
  • Belgium delicacies: waffles, chocolates, fries, mussels, and beer!
  • Beware of pickpockets in bars/crowded restaurants
  • Some restaurants are cash only, check Yelp/Google prior to dining and make sure to carry some cash
  • Best places to get fries are just off of the street stands
  • There are chocolate shops around every corner, can’t go wrong with any.
house & home

Photo Walkthrough of Squirrel House

Ian and I first moved to Philadelphia in the summer of 2017.  We bought a fixer upper at around 1,200 sq ft in a quiet neighborhood, and got to work.  Over the last two years, we changed everything from painting the walls to swapping out flooring.  Needless to say, everything looks very different from when we first moved in.  I love looking back at the photos of when we first saw the place to see how far we’ve come.  It also is a good reminder of the power of paint and a little elbow grease go a LONG way.

It’s crazy to think, we were just two kids in our mid-20s with a few power tools and big dreams.  We did over 90% of the renovations ourselves and probably put in around $20,000 for renovations throughout these past 2 years.

It’s very bittersweet, since we are in the midst of renovating a new home in the suburbs which we’ll hopefully move into in the next few months.  But we’re excited to rent out our current home to tenants who will love it as much as we do.

Oh, and for those wondering, we call our house Squirrel House because our street name is squirrel-related and there just happened to be lots of squirrels running around the neighborhood.

Most of the before pictures are from the listing when we first bought the house.  Some of the before photos are taken when we first moved in.  All after photos are taken on my trusty little iPhone SE.

living room – previously, this space had really outdated (and damaged) laminate flooring.  we swapped out the flooring, painted everything, replaced baseboards, and built fun furniture like the art ledge and the tv console.

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wall color: simply white by benjamin moore, newburyport blue by benjamin moore

dining room – our dining room isn’t super big, but it’s a good size to fit a large dining table.  we built this table that seats 8-10 people, painted everything, new baseboards.  but our proudest accomplishment here is probably removing the little hats on the chandelier.  instead of an outdated chandelier, it’s actually quite chic.

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wall color: simply white by benjamin moore

kitchen – the kitchen was super outdated, so really anything we did would’ve been an upgrade.  we decided to keep the range and refrigerator since they were in decent condition.  we opted for an ikea kitchen, since it was the most affordable for us at the time.  we tiled for the first time when we did the subway tile backsplash.  we built a floating shelf and painted (!) the existing tile floors.

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wall color: grey owl by benjamin moore

upstairs hallway – besides getting new flooring all throughout upstairs, the biggest change in the hallway is the faux shiplap wall treatment that we did throughout the length of the hallway.  it really does a good job brightening up the hallway and adding interest to the walls without adding pictures of artwork.

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wall color: polar bear by behr

bedroom 1 – the office.  for all the bedroom upstairs, we swapped out the floors, redid the baseboards, painted everything, and swapped out the eyesore boob lights and replaced them with stylish flush mount lights.

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wall color: simply white by benjamin moore

bedroom 2 – guest room.  this room was by far the tiniest room in the house.  we are still unsure how the previous owners managed to put a full-size bed and a desk in this tiny room.  but since we are currently using it as a guest room, we just opted for a full fize bed and a small nightstand that we had on hand.

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wall color: simply white by benjamin moore

bedroom 3 – master bedroom.  this room was one of the hardest rooms to renovate.  the layout the previous owners chose made us scratch our heads in confusion as to why they would position their furniture that way.  this room also had a significant amount of water damage in the ceiling and wall, so we had to get a plaster repair contractor out to fix that.

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wall color: simply white by benjamin moore

bathroom – the funny thing is that we ended up finishing the bathroom within the first month of moving in.  mainly because i refused to take a full shower in the old bathroom (i opted for quick 2 min quick wash) since the shower was sooooo dingy.  the old bathroom was painted a color that did not do it any favors, so i painted it a light gray that has a coastal vibe.  by swapping out the pedestal sink for a regular vanity gives us a lot more storage.  but the biggest transformation is probably removing the old shower door and opting for shower curtains.  since the bathroom is so tiny, it really opened up the space and made it seem much bigger than before.

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wall color: grey owl by benjamin moore

basement – we hired a contractor to do the majority of the work in the basement.  we had the staircase completely rebuilt, took off the old paneling and framed out the entire basement.  we added stylish drop ceiling to brighten up the space (the basement is actually really low, only about 7 1/2 ft height).  lastly, i laid down peel and stick vinyl flooring which is really great to have in the basement since the basement door leads out to the garage/outside, so we do come through the basement entrance quite often, and the vinyl flooring is so good for the high traffic area.

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wall color: polar bear by behr

Food & Drink

Apple Butter Muffins

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Fall is here!  I absolutely adore fall and everything that comes with it.  The best part of fall, in my opinion, is all the apple things we get to eat.  One of my favorite activities each fall is making a huge batch of apple butter to can and give out to neighbors.  This year, I made close to a gallon (!!!) of apple butter!  While I am a fan of spreading apple butter on almost everything, my favorite thing to do with apple butter is bake with it.  I decided to convert a very simple muffin recipe into the moistest apple butter muffins.  It will fill your home with the smells of fall, and it comes together in less than an hour.  Score!

Apple Butter Muffins

  • Servings: 12
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Ingredients

Apple Butter Muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tb baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup apple butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Apple Butter Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tb milk
  • 1/4 cup apple butter

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line or grease standard muffin tins.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, apple butter, and vegetable oil.  Incorporate dry ingredients into wet ingredients in parts.  Stir with a spatula until well combined and no dry ingredients visible (little lumps are okay).
  2. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  3. While muffins are baking, make the buttercream.  Beat butter until light and fluffy, about 8-10 minutes.  Slowly add powdered sugar until you get an airy texture.  Mix in apple butter and beat until desired consistency.

philly

Philadelphia Museum of Art

It’s hard to drive on the I-76 through Philadelphia and not miss the gargantuan building that is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  This museum is seriously impressive, boasting two floors filled with various collections ranging from Impressionist paintings to arms & armors collection to a Japanese garden.

Full disclosure: as much as I love museums, I often take advantage of free/discount days.  Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I paid full admission price for a museum.  The awesome thing about the Philadelphia Museum of Art is every Wednesday night from 5pm – 8:45 pm and every first Sunday of the month is pay-as-you-wish admission. I asked one of the staff what’s the lowest you can pay, and they said “one penny”.  SERIOUSLY.  For one penny, you can have access to one of the best art collections.

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Another amazing thing about the art museum is the views.  The views from inside the museum or outside on the steps are some of the best in the city.  If you’re feeling extra touristy, the Rocky statue awaits you down the steps.  It’s become my favorite summer evening activity – going there on Wednesday nights after work and watching the sunset.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

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For more information, visit – https://philamuseum.org/

philly

An afternoon in East Passyunk

I’m finally getting a slow week after a few weeks of work and hosting visitors.  Finally I’m able to look through the photos I took of the places I visited and compile them into a post.  Up first – East Passyunk.

Despite living in Philly for 2 years now, this was actually my first time venturing down to East Passyunk (or even South Philly in general).  I’m not sure why, but I always have found my sweet spot to be hovering around Center City & Old City.  I’m a creature of habit, I suppose.

But when my friend visiting from San Francisco told me that she has to visit this plant shop in Philly, lo and behold it was located in East Passyunk.  Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.  But after spending the afternoon there on a sweltering July day, I love it. So much.  What I love about it is that despite it having so many cute shops, cafes, and restaurants (which are all ridiculously well-rated), it’s not overly crowded, it’s fairly easy to find parking, and it maintains the perfect combination of residential and “hey, there’s stuff to do here” vibe.

As we were walking towards East Passyunk, we were greeted by this mural outside of Bing Bing Dim Sum.  We already had dinner plans so we didn’t dine here, but I’m definitely coming back.  It has great reviews… and that cat.

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In my opinion, the Gritty mural alone is worth the trip.  We probably spent 20 minutes trying to get “the perfect profile pic” in front of Gritty.  The best part was this lady who lives directly across the street, taking pictures of us taking pictures with Gritty.

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Rival Bros. is one of my favorite coffee roasters here in town.  Granted, I always visit the location near Kimmel Center.  But this one in East Passyunk was just so darn cute.

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The granddaddy of it all was visiting Urban Jungle.  It’s one of the best indoor plant shops I’ve been to.  Fair warning, there’s no AC inside and I was sweating like a beast.  Regardless, the employees were so knowledgeable and helpful, and I got a cutie little plant to add to my collection.  My friend also bought a plant and lugged it back to San Francisco.

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I suppose another reason why East Passyunk is known as the foodie hub of Philly is its close proximity to Italian Market.  It’s just a stone’s throw away.  So we ended up walking towards Italian Market, passing by the famous Pat’s and Geno’s.  In case you were wondering, I don’t favor one over the other.  I live in Roxborough, and my wallet is loyal to Dalessandro’s.

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Food & Drink

Lemon Sorbet

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Ahhh summer.  One dessert I can never get enough of is sorbet.  I love, love, love the perfect combination of cold and citrus on a hot day.  The best part is sorbet is super easy to make and only requires ingredients I always have on hand.

I like to serve the sorbet in the lemons that I hollowed out.  It’s such a cute way to serve this simple dessert.

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Lemon Sorbet

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar over medium-low heat.  Cook until sugar is melted.  Stir in lemon zest and lemon juice.  Let mixture completely cool.
  2. Pour in ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Food & Drink

No-Bake Mini Lemon Cheesecake Cups

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I LOOOOOOVE no-bake desserts.  Especially when the heat is high in the middle of summer, no-bake desserts are the best.  Lately, I’ve been on a citrus kick, and I’ve been experimenting with the jar of lemon curd I made a week ago.

Coincidentally, I’m also cleaning out my pantry at the moment, and I found a sleeve of graham crackers that I need to eat before it expires.  I started experimenting with combining the two to make a no-bake dessert.  After some brainstorming, I came up with a really simple, lemon cheesecake cup.

The base is just like a regular graham cracker crust.  It’s very buttery and has a lot of bite to it.  The filling is not as dense as a cheesecake, but it’s nice and fluffy, which will give you serious lemon meringue pie vibes.  I topped the whole thing with a generous layer of lemon curd and voila!

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No-Bake Mini Lemon Cheesecake Cups

  • Servings: 24
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Ingredients

  • 16 graham cracker sheets, crushed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup lemon curd

Method

  1. Line the 24 cavities of a mini-muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter.  In a small bowl, combine crushed graham crackers and butter.  Stir together until it forms a crumbly mixture.  Divide and press evenly along the base and sides in mini muffin tins.
  2. In a medium bowl, whip cream cheese until light and fluffy.  In a separate bowl, beat heavy cream with granulated sugar until it reaches stiff peaks.  Fold in the whipped cream cheese until well-combined.  Spoon approximately 2 tsp of cream cheese mixture in each cup (leave a little room on top).
  3. Spread a thin layer of lemon curd on the top.  Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.